A Ham's Guide to RFI, Ferrites, Baluns, and Audio Interfacing
Revision 3 24 Apr 08©
Entire Contents Copyright 2007-8 The Audio Systems Group, Inc., except Appendices 2, 3, and 4, which areproperty of the cited authors, and product data, which is copyright by Fair-Rite Products. All Rights Reserved
by Jim Brown K9YC
Audio Systems Group, Inc.http://audiosystemsgroup.comThe basis of this tutorial is a combination of my engineering education, 53 years in ham radio, mywork as vice-chair of the AES Standards Committee working group on EMC, and extensive re-search on RFI in the pro audio world where I’ve made my living. That work is documented in tech-nical papers and tutorials that can be downloaded from the publications section of my website.
Chapter 1 – Some Fundamentals
To solve interference problems, we must understand them. So we'll begin by describing the waysthat RF interference is coupled into equipment and detected. There are several principal mecha-nisms at work.
Detection at Semiconductor Junctions
Every semiconductor junction, whether part of a diode,transistor, or integrated circuit, is quite nonlinear, especially in the voltage region where it is be-ginning to conduct. In analog circuits, we prevent this non-linearity from causing distortion byproperly biasing the circuitry, by using lots of negative feedback, and by preventing the signal frombeing large enough to cross into the cutoff region.Thanks to this non-linearity, every semiconductor junction functions as a
square law detector
, de-tecting any RF signal it sees. A good designer prevents detection by shielding the equipment andits wiring, by filtering input and output wiring, and even by bypassing the junction by a capacitor.Since virtually all detection that causes RFI follows square law, the strength of the signal detectedby audio equipment, telephones, and other equipment will increase (or decrease) as the square of any increase (or decrease) in RF level at the detector.
In other words, the strength of the detectedRF changes by twice the number of dB that the RF signal changes.
This means that if we manage toreduce the interfering RF signal by 6 dB, the detected audio will drop by 12 dB. This is a very use-ful thing – it means that we may not need "an elephant gun" to solve many interference problems.
The most fundamental cause of radio interference to other systems is the fact thatthe wiring for those systems, both inside and outside the box, are antennas. We may call them"patch cables" or "speaker cables" or "video cables" or "Ethernet cables," or printed circuit traces,but Mother Nature knows that they are antennas! And Mother Nature always wins the argument.When we transmit, some of the RF from our transmitter is picked up by those unintentional anten-nas, and RF current flows on them. What happens to that current determines whether there will beinterference, and how severe it will be. We know that antennas work in both directions – that is,they follow the principle of
– so when RF trash from inside the box flows on those an-tennas, it is radiated as noise and we hear it on the ham bands.Fig 1 shows a simple antenna we’ve all used,probably with our first radio receiver. We con-nected a random wire to our receiver, and theantenna current flowed through the receiver toa "ground" that might have been a driven rod,but was more likely the safety ground of the ACpower line (the third pin on the AC socket,known in North America as the "green wire").Even if the radio was double insulated so that itdidn't require the green wire connection, RFcurrent still flowed through the stray capaci-tance of the power transformer to the powerline and made the radio work.Fig 1 – A simple random wire antennaRF picked up on the antennas we call loudspeaker wiring, video cables, the coax from the cable TVsystem or a rooftop TV antenna, flows through equipment to get to the AC power system safetyground. Hams understand that some antennas are more effective than others. An antenna that is